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Archive for February, 2015

1. Snow Pile

I heard two girls talking in a store recently. “Winter should become a verb now,” one said to the other, “we should call it wintering, meaning an awful thing that you have to do every year.” The other girl readily agreed and I was left to ponder their conversation.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not a winter lover but neither am I a winter hater. The problems that winter brings are real, as in the extra work and the added cost, and it’s easy to view winter as a way of life rather than a period of time but like life, winter is what we make of it. As someone once said “When it snows, you have two choices: shovel or make snow angels.”

2. Beech Tree

I choose to make snow angels, figuratively at least, and only when I’m not shoveling the stuff. I wanted to tell the girls that even the worst winter has a few good days, and how much better they’d feel about it if they just took a walk in the woods on a sunny day and saw what a little sunlight and blue shadows can do to a beech tree.  In the end I didn’t say anything. I just took the walk myself.

3. Beech Leaf

They say in the 145 years that they’ve been keeping records of such things here in New Hampshire, that this has been the coldest February that we’ve ever seen. I can believe that; I don’t think I’ve ever had to wear as many layers just to go outside as I have this year, but it’s still better than being inside. More than a day or two of that and I start feeling as if I’m going a little stir crazy.

 4. Boulder

There are as many beautiful things to see in winter as there are in summer but because they aren’t wildflowers and butterflies, many people don’t bother going out to see them. Beauty takes on different forms in winter and you can see a lot of things that you can’t see in summer. You might see winter hug a stone, for instance. Though one is just as cold as the other, together they might generate a warm smile.

5. Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen

A closer look will show that even in winter the stone is alive with hundreds or even thousands of life forms, including the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen. It’s no wonder that winter had to throw its arms around the stone with jewels like this encrusting its surface.

6. Fallen Branch

Stones aren’t the only place to find beautiful and interesting things in winter. Fallen branches almost always hold a surprise or two.

 7. Empty Cocoon

You could have a chance to look around an insect’s home.

8. Liverwort on  Bark

Or you might find a Frullania liverwort crocheted on the bark.

9. Tree Tops

Not surprisingly, the maple syrup makers say that the season will be starting late this year. It could be a week or it could be two, but not until daytime temperatures reach the mid-30s F and the nights fall to just below freezing will the sap run.

 10. Ashuelot River

In a way, when I think of all the things that they’ll see in the woods I envy of the tree tappers, but I don’t envy their having to wade through such deep snow. The weather people say that this was also the third snowiest February in 145 years of record keeping. There was enough windblown snow up at the old abandoned road to even cover many of the vertical ledges that the mosses, lichens and liverworts grow on, so that meant that we had to cancel the Pathfinders hike because of it. I’m hoping that we see some melting soon because I was really looking forward to showing them around. We don’t want it to melt too quickly though; so much snow melting too fast could cause flooding.

11. Stream

I hope the girls in the store will one day discover that all of the seasons are beautiful in their own way, and I hope that they’ll give nature in winter a chance. The artist John Sloan said “Nature is what you see plus what you think about it.”  I think that goes for winter too.

All seasons are beautiful for the person who carries happiness within. – Horace Friess

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1. Blueberry Stem Gall

It might look like a fermented kidney bean on a stick but this is actually a blueberry stem gall. Last summer a shiny black wasp called Hemadas nubilipennis damaged a bud while laying her eggs on a tender shoot. The plant responded by growing a kidney shaped gall around the eggs, and this is where the larvae will overwinter before emerging as adults in the spring. This plant was a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) but this wasp isn’t choosy and will also use lowbush plants (Vaccinium angustifolium.) These galls do no real harm to the plants.

2. Witch's Broom on Blueberry

Witch’s broom on highbush blueberry is a deformity that causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. It’s not caused by an insect but by a fungus called Pucciniastrum goeppertianum. This fungus spends part of its life cycle on the needles of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) so bushes should never be planted near fir trees. When the fungus releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry, the bush becomes infected. The fungus overwinters on the bush and in the spring again releases spores which will infect even more balsam fir trees, and the cycle begins again. The disease infects the entire plant so pruning off the witch’s broom won’t help. If you have a blueberry plantation and want to keep other plants from becoming infected then any bushes with witch’s broom need to be removed and destroyed.

3. Oak Apple Gall

The first recorded mention of ink made from oak galls and iron was by Pliny the Elder (23 -79 AD). Tannic acid extracted from fermented oak galls was mixed with scrap iron, gum arabic, and water, wine, or beer to make a dark black ink that was used for many centuries in virtually every country on earth. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Johannes Sebastian Bach, Victor Hugo, George Washington and countless others wrote, sketched, and composed with it. The Constitution of the United States was written with it and the U.S. Postal Service even had its own iron gall ink recipe. Chemically produced inks became widely available in the mid-20th century and oak galls went from being prized and sought after to those strange growths seen on forest walks.

4. Willow Pine Cone Gall

If you can stand hearing about one more gall, the willow pine cone gall is an interesting one that isn’t seen that often. The parts of the willow that would have once been leaves were converted into a gall when a fly called a gall gnat midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg on its stem. The resulting larva released a chemical that convinced the willow to produce this gall rather than the leaves that it normally would have. The little pink larva rests inside all winter and emerges as an adult when the air temperature warms up in the spring.

 5. Fishbone Beard Lichen

Fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) is one of many different beard lichens that we have here in New Hampshire. It is a forest species that seems to prefer growing on spruce limbs and anyone who has ever deboned a bony fish like perch will understand where its common name comes from. The main branches are covered with shorter, stubby branches and the whole thing looks a lot like fish bones. One of the ways I find lichens in the winter is by picking up and looking at fallen tree branches. They almost always have lichens on them.

6. Powdered Ruffle Lichen

This powdered ruffle lichen (Parmotrema arnoldii) grew into a V as it followed the shape of the forked branch it grew on. This is a beautiful foliose lichen  that I don’t see very often because it seems to grow high in the treetops and the only way that I can find it is by inspecting fallen branches. Features that help identify this lichen are the black hairs on the lobe margins, which are called cilia, and the black to brown undersides. There are several similar lichens with the same common name but different scientific names.

7. Sidewalk Firedot Lichen

Sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) gets its common name from the way it likes to grow on concrete. In this photo it is growing on the concrete between the stones in a stone wall. If it is seen on stones it’s a good indication that they are limestone or contain some lime because this lichen almost always grows on calcareous substrates. Something unusual about it is how it is made up almost entirely of tiny, almost microscopic fruiting bodies (Apothecia) and doesn’t appear to have a thallus (body) like most lichens.  Firedot lichens can be red, orange, or yellow. There are also granite firedot lichens (Caloplaca arenaria) and sulfur firedot lichens (Caloplaca flavovirescens).

 8. Frost Crack on Gray Birch

A couple of posts ago I talked about frost cracks on trees. Here’s a severe example on a gray birch which probably happened a year or two ago and never healed and which, in this case, will probably kill the tree. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night.

9. Frost Rib on Red Oak

Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo. It almost looks as if a young tree has somehow grown onto the side of an older tree but that’s only because of the differences in the age of the bark, which of course is much younger on the healed frost crack.

Thanks very much to Michael Wojtech’s book Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast for helping me identify and understand this process. If you are serious about nature study this book is a must have.

10. Polypody Ferns

Though it might seem like polypody fern fronds curl in response to the cold in winter, it is really dryness that makes them curl. Polypody ferns are one of a few vascular plants that can rehydrate after drying, much like non vascular lichens and mosses do. Once the soil thaws they will begin to once again absorb water and will return to normal.  When they curl like this it’s a good time to study the spore cases (sori) on the leaf undersides, and a good time to reflect on how dry winter soil can be even though it might be covered by 3 feet of snow.

 11. Woodpecker Holes

 

Long, rectangular holes with rounded corners are made by a pileated woodpecker, probably looking for carpenter ants. It’s hard to tell which woodpecker made the round holes but I’m guessing it was the same pileated woodpecker because they were quite big.

12. Woodpecker Holes

One of the smaller woodpeckers made these holes; maybe a hairy woodpecker. They looked fairly fresh and there were wood chips on the snow so I probably scared this one away.

 14. Beech Bud

The tips of the bud scales on American beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) show just a small hint of the gray, hairy edges that will be on the leaves to come. It is thought that these leaf hairs keep caterpillars and other insects from eating the newly opened leaves, but they also make them something worth watching for. The long feathery hairs disappear quickly once the leaf opens, so you have only a short time to see how very beautiful they are.

13. Beech Bud Break from May 2014-2

I don’t usually reuse photos but since I was on the subject of how beautiful beech buds are when they break I thought that a picture might be worth a thousand words. This is one of the most beautiful things that you’ll ever see in a New England forest in my opinion, and it is just one reason I spend so much time in the woods. It won’t be so very long before we see them again-this was taken in late April last year, just when the spring beauties bloomed.

Natural objects themselves, even when they make no claim to beauty, excite the feelings, and occupy the imagination.  Nature pleases, attracts, delights, merely because it is nature. We recognize in it an Infinite Power.  ~ Karl Humboldt

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Trail

I noticed that people had broken a path through the snow at a local forest that I visit often, so I decided to follow it one cold and cloudy day. The snow was well packed and easy to walk on and squeaked under my boots. For those of you who have never experienced real cold; when it’s really cold the snow squeaks when it’s walked on, and it does that so nature nuts know that it’s too cold to be out walking on it. At least, that’s my theory.

2. Trail

The path was also only 1 person wide and if you stepped off it into the soft snow at the sides you found yourself up to your knees in it. I suspected that would be the case so I thought ahead for a change and wore my knee high gaiters. I seem to be having some hip trouble so snowshoes aren’t a good idea right now.

3. Common Greenshield Lichen

With the gaiters on I was able to plow through the snow without getting soaked below the knees and boots full of snow, so I could get a look at things like this green shield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata.) It’s not hard to see how it came by its common name; it looks just like a shield. Its dryness reminded me that winter can be as dry as a desert, in spite of all the snow.

4. Stalked Feather Moss aka Brachythecium rutabulum

One of the best things about walking through the woods in winter is seeing those things which we ordinarily wouldn’t see or which wouldn’t register, like moss on a tree trunk. At other times of the year there is so much to see that most of us would pass a small bit of moss by without a second glance.

5. Stalked Feather Moss aka Brachythecium rutabulum

But if we did we’d probably be missing something beautiful and fascinating, like this stalked feather moss (Brachythecium rutabulum.) Though it doesn’t seem to be moving we know that it is because we can read its movements and easily see how it has crawled up and over the bark plates looking for that perfect spot where it will get all the sunshine, water and nutrients that it needs. It seems to pulse with energy and you can sense how full of life it is. Its beautiful green color offers a welcome contrast to the brown, black and white winter landscape.

6. Red Oak Bark

You don’t always have to see something on the bark of a tree though, because often the bark itself is every bit as interesting and beautiful as anything that might grow on it.  As I took off my glove and ran my hand over the beautiful, deeply furrowed bark of this old northern red oak I imagined that I knew how Adam must have felt when he first laid eyes on the garden. Surely the love of creation must have welled up inside of him like a spring bubbling up from the earth.

7. Snow Depth

The woods might seem hushed and quiet but if you stop and listen you’ll find that spring is in the air. When I stopped squeaking the snow I heard a bird singing a beautiful song just above me in the treetops. I couldn’t see it so I don’t know which bird it was but it wasn’t one of the common, often heard songs. In fact I can’t remember ever hearing it before, but I’d love to hear it again.

8. Wind Blown Snow

The trees will tell you which way the wind blew during the last storm.

 9. Red Oak Buds

There are many northern red oaks (Quercus rubra) in these woods and I stopped to admire the buds of another one.  We have a lot of white oak (Quercus albra) as well but their buds aren’t as sharply pointed as these. There was no sign of these swelling just yet.

10. Oak Branch

Sugar maple buds look very similar to red oak buds because of the overlapping bud scales but an easy way to tell the two apart is by their branching habits. Oaks like the one in the photo have alternate branching and maples have opposite branching. If you’d like to be able to identify trees in winter studying their branch structure and winter buds is a great place to start.

11. Black Birch Bud

This bud had me scratching my head for quite a while but the taste test finally told me that it was a black birch (Betula lenta.) Black birch looks so much like cherry that another common name for it is cherry birch, but this bud didn’t look anything like a cherry bud. Actually, it looks a lot like a buckthorn bud but that’s a shrub, not a tree. Chewing a twig revealed a taste of wintergreen and told me immediately what it was. Black birch often fools me because so many were harvested to make oil of wintergreen that I rarely see them unless I go to spots where I know they grow.  Now I know another spot.

12. Hemlock Twig

Eastern hemlock branches aren’t hard to identify; I’ve raked up millions of them.  Hemlocks, much like weeping willows, are a “self-pruning” tree and can be quite messy. The snow in this photo seems to have a strange, luminous quality that I don’t remember seeing in person.

13. Inner Barberry Bark

The yellow inner bark will tell you that you’re seeing a barberry….

14. Barberry Thorn

But in the winter it’s the thorns that will tell you which one. European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) both have clusters of 3 or more thorns but since American barberry doesn’t grow in New England it comes down to European or Japanese, and only the very invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) has single thorns.

 15. Sunny Snow Storm

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it snow when the sun was shining as much as I have this year. It’s as if the atmosphere is so full of snow that it can’t even wait for the sun to stop shining before it drops more of it, and what looks like spots and smudges on this photo are just that-more of it.

By walking in a snowy forest you can really forget about this world, and every time you forget about this world you leave this world, and every time you leave this world you gain a very special wisdom that does not exist in this world. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1. Cone Flower Seed Head

It struck me recently that for close to 4 years now I’ve been telling all of you that you don’t even have to leave your yards to study nature, but I’ve never done a post about what I see in my own yard. This post will start to make up for that.

I started with the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), which I always leave standing for the birds. They ate most of the seeds from this one but left a little patch of them untouched. Goldfinches love these seeds so it makes me wonder why this tiny bit was rejected. Didn’t they taste good? Were they not ripe enough? I guess I’ll never know.  Since this photo was taken snow has buried it.

2. False Indigo Seed Pod

This false indigo (Baptisia australis) seed pod only had one seed left in it, but others had more. They often rattle in the wind. Sparrows, quail, grosbeaks and many songbirds like these seed and many different butterflies are attracted to the flowers. Deer won’t eat the foliage, and in this yard that’s a bonus.

3. Wild Senna Seed Head

The long, curved seedpods of wild senna (Senna hebecarpa) split lengthwise to reveal the seeds, so even though they don’t look like they’re open in this photo, they are. Many species of butterfly caterpillars like to feed on the foliage of this plant, including cloudless sulfur and orange barred sulfur. Bumblebees are attracted to its bright yellow flowers which open in late summer. This plant reminds me of a giant, 3 foot tall partridge pea.

4. Wild Senna Seed

The seed pod of wild senna has segments and each segment holds a single oval, flat seed that is about 1/4 inch across. The seeds are bigger than many seeds in my yard and bigger birds eat them. Mourning doves and many game birds like bob whites, partridge, turkeys, and quail like them, but there seems to be plenty of seeds left this year.

5. Maple Leaved Viburnum Fruit

The birds ate most of the fruit from the maple leaf viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium,) but there are a few left. I’ve noticed that there are always seem to be a few still hanging on in spring. Many species of birds love these berries, including many songbirds.

6. Crabapple

Birds like the crabapples but they always seem to leave one or two of these behind as well. Do you see a pattern here? Birds, at least the ones in my yard, never seem to eat every seed or fruit that’s available. It seems kind of odd, especially in a winter as severe as this one has been.

7. Hemlock Needles

Eastern or Canada hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) surround my yard along with white pines, oaks, and maples. The hemlocks provide plenty of seeds for the smaller birds like black capped chickadees. They are a messy tree though, and shed their smaller branches, needles, and cones all winter long. I like the white racing stripes on the undersides of the flat needles. They are actually four rows of white breathing pores (stomata) which are too small to be seen without magnification; even my macro lens couldn’t show us those.

8. Hemlock Cone

The 1/2 inch long eastern hemlock cones are among the smallest of all the trees in the pine family but the trees usually produce so many of them that the ground is completely covered in the spring. The needles and twigs of hemlocks are ground and distilled and the oil is used in ointments, so the next time an ointment helps your sore muscles, thank a hemlock.

9. Pink Something on Hemlosk Branch

I’m not sure what this pink bit of wooly fluff was that I found on a hemlock branch, but it was too big to be a hemlock wooly adelgid, which is a tiny, white woolly insect that sucks the life out of hemlocks and can eventually kill them.  I’m assuming that it is a cocoon of some sort.

10. Porella liverwort

After traveling all over the county looking for liverworts, imagine my surprise when I found this Porella liverwort growing on a hemlock limb. Its leaves were very small and at first I thought it was a moss but the photos showed overlapping leaves in two rows rather than the spirally arranged leaves of a moss. This photo isn’t very good so I’ll have to try to get a better one later on. Its leaves are small enough so they took my macro lens right to its limit.

11. Moss on Maple

This coin sized bit of moss was growing on the bark of a red maple. For the most part mosses, lichens and liverworts are epiphytic rather than parasitic and don’t take anything from trees, but I do wonder why they choose to grow where they do. In the case of this moss, it’s on the side of the tree that gets morning sun in summer and there is probably a channel in the tree bark that water runs down when it rains, so it’s most likely a perfect spot for it. It was covered in spore capsules so it’s obviously very happy.

12. Moss on Maple Closeup 2-2

This is a closer look at the spore capsules on the moss in the previous photos. They were tiny things hardly bigger in diameter than a piece of uncooked spaghetti. The capsules were all open so this moss has released its spores. I think this one might be crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa) because of its curly, contorted leaves and the way the base of its spore capsules gradually taper down to the stalks. It’s a moss that prefers tree trunks.

 13. Maple Sap Flow

Seeing sap flowing from a maple tree might get some excited about spring, but this is just a bleeding frost crack. Anyone who has sat quietly in the woods on a winter night around here has heard the crack of “exploding” trees. It’s as loud as a rifle shot and happens when the temperature drops quickly at night. They usually happen on the south side of a tree where the sun warms the tree during the day. Then at night when the temperature drops below 15 °F, the outer layer of wood can contract much quicker than the inner layer and (bang!) you have a frost crack.  I was sorry to see it on this red maple in my yard because a wound like this is a perfect spot for disease and rot to gain a foothold.

14. Unknown Growth on Maple

It could already be too late for this red maple; I found these tiny fungi growing on the shady side away from the frost crack. At least I think they’re fungi. I’ve never seen them before and have no idea how they appeared in such cold weather. The biggest example was about half the diameter of a pea and appeared to be growing directly out of the tree’s bark. When I can stop shoveling paths, roofs, and decks I’ll have to shovel a path to them so I can watch and see what they do. The snow where the tree grows is about 3 feet deep now.

15. Sring Growth on Blue Spruce-2

The blue spruce in my yard is all ready to grow new buds as soon as it warms up. It’s teaching me patience; since the temperature for the last 23 days has been below freezing, I need a good lesson in it.

Your deepest roots are in nature.  No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.  ~Charles Cook

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1. Barred Windows

I’m forever telling people that they don’t really have to go anywhere to see nature because it’s all around them, so I thought I’d take a wander around town just to see if I knew what I was talking about. Another reason I went to town was because the sidewalks were plowed and I didn’t have to wade through knee deep snow.

I started out at these barred windows because somebody used to grow beautiful heavenly blue morning glories on the bars and I always thought it would make a great photo. Unfortunately when I finally got a decent camera they stopped growing the morning glories. The windows are barred because this used to be a bank and now is a jewelry store. I wonder if the bent bar means someone tried to get in, or out? I also wonder who could be strong enough to do such a thing.

2. Boston Ivy Fruit

Since I can’t see morning glories I’ll just have to settle for the beautiful cornflower blue of Boston ivy berries. We have a lot of brick buildings here in Keene and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) grows well on them. As I usually do when I talk about Boston ivy, I should say that it isn’t from Boston and isn’t an ivy. It is in the grape family and comes from eastern Asia. In the fall its red leaves are one of the most beautiful things in town but since the vines grow mostly on the rear of buildings few notice them.

3. Blue Spruce

A Colorado blue spruce poked its colorful branches out of the deep snow. Snow won’t hurt this tree any; it was found growing on Pike’s Peak in 1862 up in the high country, so it’s perfectly cold hardy. Its silvery blue color comes from the waxy coating on its needles, which is similar to the bloom on blueberries and plums. This coating helps its needles (actually leaves) to minimize moisture loss in winter when there is little water available to its roots. Some western Native American tribes used the tree medicinally to treat colds and stomach ailments but today its value comes from its popularity as a landscape specimen.

4. Fringed Candleflame Lichens on Crabapple

This crabapple tree was encrusted with what I believe is fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa.) The city of Keene uses in-ground sprinklers in the summer and the spray keeps the trunks of these trees moist to about 5 feet off the ground and that’s just where these water loving lichens grow. Some trees are so covered with them that it looks as if someone painted them bright yellow.

5. Fringed Candleflame Lichen Fruiting

My book Lichens of North America says that fruiting bodies (Apothecia) are commonly seen on fringed candle flame lichens, but this is the first time I’ve seen them.  They are the cup shaped parts, which were extremely small and difficult to get a good photo of. I think the largest one seen in this photo was probably only 1/16 of an inch across. This lichen is said to be very sensitive to air pollution, so seeing it is a good sign that our air quality is good.

 6. Star Rosette Lichen

What I believe were star rosette lichens (Physcia stellaris) grew among the fringed candle flame lichens.  Star rosette lichen gets its common name from the way its lobes radiate outward like a star. This photo doesn’t show that feature well though, because I was trying to get a shot of the Apothecia, which I’ve never seen on this lichen either. I was excited to see so many lichens fruiting, but it made me realize that the reason I haven’t seen them fruiting before was because I was looking at them in the summer. Does anyone know why so many lichens (and mosses) produce spores in winter? It seems an odd time for a plant to want to reproduce and I’m not sure what the advantages would be.

7. Crabapple

I’ve read that there are fruits, especially those that grow on imported plants, that birds will simply refuse to eat and apparently these crab apples are one of them. Birds won’t eat other crab apple varieties until they have frozen and thawed several times, but those pictured must have done that many times this cold winter. This tree was absolutely loaded with fruit and not a single piece had been eaten. It seems a shame that a more bird friendly variety couldn’t have been planted.

8. Common Green Shield Lichen

There are shield lichens, starburst lichens, candle wax lichens, and ruffle lichens and they all look very similar, but I think this one might be a common green shield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata.) This is a good example of a lichen which can reproduce itself vegetatively; the granular looking bits toward its center are called soredia. Soredia are meant to fall off and start new lichens, and many lichens use this method of reproduction in addition to producing spores. If you look to the upper left corner of this lichen you will be able to see the size difference between it and the fringed candle flame lichen shown previously.

9. Jumanji Sign

Anyone who has seen the film Jumanji with Robin Williams has seen downtown Keene but they probably didn’t even know it. Many of the exterior scenes, including the animal stampede on Main Street, were filmed here. The film crew painted this sign for a business that never existed on the wall of a downtown building and after Robin Williams died a large memorial covered the entire sidewalk for a few weeks. He was a nice guy who truly enjoyed meeting people, and he became friends with some of our local residents. Next time you watch the movie watch for this sign and you’ll know that you’re seeing downtown Keene.

10. Old Coke Sign

I wonder if the film crew got the idea for their make believe sign from this one, which is the real thing. There is another similar one on the side of another building and both have been here for at least as long as I have. This building housed a well-known drug store for many years and when I was a boy I used to save up my money and buy my grandmother a box of Russell Stover chocolates from them on Valentine’s Day. Of course she would always share them with me and that usually meant that I’d get to eat three to her one. I always looked forward to Valentine’s Day back then.

 11. Ice Cairns

Someone had some time on their hands. And probably gloves, too.

 12. Rose of Sharon Seed Pod

This rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) was loaded with seed pods. I wonder if their seeds are viable; I can’t remember ever finding a seedling. This shrub is in the mallow family and its flowers resemble those of hibiscus, hollyhocks, and mallows. I always think of it as a hardy hibiscus, probably because I pruned hundreds of hibiscus when I worked as a gardener in Florida. That’s probably also why you won’t find a rose of Sharon growing in my yard.

13. Magnolia Buds-2

The magnolias had their winter fur coats on. They are of course bud scales that protect the tender bud within from the cold.  Though some people think that shrubs and trees grow buds in the spring the buds are actually set during the previous year’s growth and only swell up and open in spring.

14. Barberry Fruit

I thought the red of these barberry berries (Berberis) would be appropriate for Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure which plant it is but I am sure that it’s an ornamental rather than an invasive species.  Birds had eaten most of the fruit but there were a few left.

All of the plants and lichens in this post (and many more) grow in plain sight on the streets of Keene, but I doubt that most of the hundreds of people who pass them by every day even know that they’re there.

The most beautiful things in life go un-noticed. ~Omar Hickman

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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1. Backyard

There’s a high pressure system sitting and spinning in Canada that’s dragging down bitter cold air and one snowstorm after another, sometimes as many as three in a single week. With nothing but cold weather between the storms the snow doesn’t melt but instead just builds up. I tried taking a photo of the trees in my backyard during one storm. Judging by the blurry spot on the right one of the flakes landed on my lens, but I didn’t see it until just now. I never have great luck taking photos when it’s snowing but I wanted to try to show you what it was like.

2. Snow Depth

I didn’t realize I had cropped this photo so the yardstick said “the finest pain” but it fit so I left it that way. Actually, I don’t know if I could call the pains I have from shoveling my roof “the finest,” but they’re right up there in the top five. If I have to shovel it once more they might make it to number one.

The snow had settled some when I took this shot in my back yard and the spot was in a hemlock shadow, so it’s not entirely accurate.  I think 24 inches is closer to reality, but I was too worn out to wade through anymore knee deep snow that day.

3. Evergreens

Evergreens always look nice when they’ve been frosted by show, especially when they’re not in my yard and I don’t have to shovel the frosting.

 4. Bent Birches

It’s been so cold that the snow has been very light, dry and powdery, but the heavy wet snow that we had in November on Thanksgiving eve bent many of the birches. Though most of them stood right back up again there are some that didn’t, and I’m curious to see what will become of them. I wonder if they’ll just grow on in their bent state or if they’ll die.  I’m guessing that they won’t last long.

5. Beech and Oak Leaves

The beech and oak leaves add such beautiful colors to the winter woods, especially when the sun breaks through the clouds.

6. Ashuelot

You know it’s cold when you see the Ashuelot River frozen from bank to bank in this spot in Swanzey. I’ve only seen it happen twice; last year and this year. Both winters had extended periods of zero degrees F or below at night.

7. River View

You would think that the farther north you went the more likely a river would be to freeze over but the strength of the current plays a part in it as well. In this spot north of Keene, I’ve never seen it freeze over completely so I’m guessing that the current must be quite strong.

8. Roadside Icicles

There’s no problem with water freezing on the ledges along the side of this highway. I’m guessing that it must be close to 100 feet from the top of the hill, so these are some of the longest icicles that I’ve seen.

9. Roadside Icicles

They’re bigger than tree trunks and have a blueish tint. I don’t want to be anywhere near them when the temperature starts rising.

10. Ice Fishing Hut

The bright sunshine can be deceiving. It was bitter cold here this day with the wind coming hard across the pond so I took a couple of quick shots and jumped back into my truck. The ice fishermen were all huddled in their huts and I didn’t blame them.

11. Dim Sun

There are a few photos of sunny days in this post but most of our days have looked more like this, with the sun trying but not quite able to burn through.  There was actually snow falling when I took this, in spite of what the sun was doing.

12. Monadnock

I went to get a closer look at Mount Monadnock on one sunny day because, though it’s easily seen from Keene, I don’t get to see it up close that often. I grew up in the shadow of this mountain and it’s good to know that, no matter where you are in this part of the state, all you have to do is look over your shoulder and there it is, like an old friend.

13. Monadnock

I’ll never forget climbing up there in mid-April one year through waist deep snow. It must be shoulder deep right now so I think I’ll just stay down here and admire it. The snow might make it harder to climb but it also makes it more beautiful to see.

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“And freezing.”
“Is it?”
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.” ~A.A. Milne

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1. Road View

I’ve agreed to help a group of youngsters called Pathfinders in their quest to find good examples of mosses, lichens and liverworts. I know of 2 places where they could find all three of them without too much trouble and decided that the old abandoned road along Beaver Brook would probably be the safest. From what I can tell Pathfinders are anywhere from 10-15 years old and get merit badges and other awards each time they meet certain goals, much like the Boy Scouts.

2. Beaver Brook

Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows that if you stand me up in front of a group of people and ask me to speak I immediately forget everything I’ve ever known, but this should be very different. By reading other nature blogs I know that people who lead excursions like these usually go off on the hunt alone before they lead a group, so that’s what I did. Beaver Brook was almost completely iced over with just a narrow ribbon of water glistening in the sunshine. It was sunny but it was cold and the snow where it hadn’t been walked on was quite deep. Since I made this trip we’ve gotten over a foot of new snow, so I hope the Pathfinders have already earned their winter survival badges.

 3. Ledge Ice

I chose this place because of the easily accessible ledges and trees. Since vertical ledges and trees don’t accumulate much snow the lichens, mosses and liverworts that grow on them are easy to find all winter long. We’ll have to pay close attention to ice though; we don’t want anyone standing under that. Since this trip is planned towards the end of the month the ice could be rotten and falling by then.

4. Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen

Beautiful smokey eye boulder lichens(Porpidia albocaerulescens) grow on the stone of the ledges along with many other lichens and mosses. I’m hoping that each Pathfinder has his or her own loupe or magnifying glass so they can see details like the beautiful sky blue fruiting bodies (Apothecia) on this lichen. Part of this lichen in the top center of the photo was under ice, and what a difference it made in its appearance.

5. Quartz Crystal Formations

While I was looking for lichens I found a pocket of milky quartz crystals that I’ve never seen here before. It seems like every time I come here I see something new and on this day, between lichens and quartz crystals, I found three things that I had never seen here. That’s why it pays to follow the same trails over and over; you think you’ve seen all there is to see but you find that you haven’t even come close.

6. Hole in the Snow

There was a quarter sized hole in the snow that must have had warm water vapor rising up through it, because its edges were decorated with delicate, feather like frost crystals.

7. Yellow Feather Moss

Yellow feather moss (Homalothecium lutescens) always looks pale and sickly but it is perfectly healthy, as its spore capsule production shows. This moss is rare here and this small clump is the only example I know of, so maybe it will earn the Pathfinders some extra points.

8. Yellow Feather Moss Spore Capsule

I won’t tell you how many shots of this yellow feather moss spore capsule I had to take before I got a useable one, but it was a lot. This example still has its tiny, pointy, red cap-like lid (operculum), meaning it hasn’t released its spores yet.

9. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is another beautiful moss that I’ve seen nowhere but here. It’s looking a little dry at the moment but it will snap back as soon as it warms up and we get some rain. This moss gets its common name from the way new leaves “step up” from the backs of older leaves.

10. Possible Fused Rim Lichen aka Lecanora symmicta

I found a crustose lichen that I’ve never seen before. It grew on tree bark and I think that it might be a fused rim lichen (Lecanora symmicta.) Fused rim lichens get their name from the way the tan colored fruiting bodies (Apothecia) sometimes fuse together. I don’t know if this is a rare lichen or if I’ve just never noticed it before because it fruits in winter, but it’s something else that might earn the Pathfinders extra points.

11. Blue Lichen

I’ve known for a long time that lichens change color when they dry out but I didn’t know that cold affected them. Then I started seeing blue lichens in places where I was sure there were none before and I realized that some of the lichens that I saw in the summer were turning blue in winter. That isn’t much help when it comes to identifying them though, so now I have to go back when it’s warmer and see if I can figure out what they are. Once I’ve identified them I can see what the books say about them turning blue.

12. Greater Whipwort Liverwort

The Pathfinders need to find 5 mosses, 5 lichens, and 1 liverwort and the greater whipworts (Bazzania trilobata) that grow on the ledges here will take care of the liverwort requirement. They’ve shriveled a bit because of the cold and dryness but it’s still obvious that they aren’t a moss. I always find these liverworts growing on stones near streams, so they must like high humidity.

13. Script Lichen

Script lichens (Graphis) are another candidate for a hand lens but well worth the effort. There are 39 species of script lichens in North America and many more throughout the world and their most important identification characteristic is their squiggly apothecia, which look like ancient script written on tree bark.  I counted at least five different species on this day in just this small area, but I think you could probably spend a lifetime trying to identify script lichens. If I was still a teenager I might take on such a challenge.

14. Yellow Crust Fungus

I’m sure that the Pathfinders will find all that they’re looking for and plenty more besides. I even found a bright yellow fungus that I think might be a crowded parchment (Stereum complicatum), even though they are usually orange. Color like this is always a welcome sight in winter and I hope I can remember where it was so I can show it to them.

15. Brook View

The only thing I can’t be sure of is how much snow we’ll have by the day of our trip. I’ve already had to start wearing gaiters, but if we keep getting two or three snowstorms each week like we have been lately we might all need snowshoes.

I’m glad that I made this solo journey because now I know that the kids won’t be disappointed. There is plenty here to see and I hope they will come away from this place with an urge to see more and learn more. I also hope the knowledge that they can see beauty virtually anywhere as long as they are willing to look for it will stay with them for a good long time.

Every child is born a naturalist. His eyes are, by nature, open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life.  ~ Ritu Ghatourey

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1. Hazelnut Pods

I like the reds and orangey browns and the velvety texture of hazelnut husks. They add a nice touch of color to the gray and white world of winter. The nuts are a favorite of many birds and animals including turkeys and squirrels so they disappear quickly. This photo is of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) but we also have beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) in parts of the state.

2. Hobblebush Bud

This is the time of year that I start watching buds to see what they’re up to.  Hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium) flower and leaf buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales. Though there might be plenty of snow the ground is frozen, so none of the moisture is available to plants and bud scales help conserve moisture. Plants that have no bud scales have evolved other ways to protect their buds, and one of those ways is by wearing wooly winter coats like the hobblebush does.

3. Nannyberry Bud

Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) buds always remind me of long beaked birds. This is another native viburnum but instead of being naked its terminal flower buds have two scales. They’re a good example of valvate bud scales, which simply means the margins of the two bud scales touch but don’t overlap. This shrub is easily confused with wild raisin (Viburnum cassinoides) in the winter because its flower buds are very similar, but the bud scales on wild raisin tend to split open more around the swollen part of the bud.

4. Striped Maple Buds

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) have colorful twigs and buds and are among the easiest trees to identify no matter what time of year because of the green and white vertical stripes on their bark. Their terminal buds have two scales and are valvate like the nannyberry buds.

 5. Red Maple Buds

Red maples (Acer rubrum) protect their buds with as many as four pairs of rounded, hairy edged bud scales. The scales are often plum purple and the bud inside tomato red. This is one of the first of our native trees to blossom in spring and also one of the most beautiful, in my opinion. Each small bud holds as many as 6-8 red blossoms. Red maple trees can be strictly male or female, or can have both male and female blossoms on a single tree. They bloom before the leaves appear and large groves of them can wash the landscape with a brilliant red haze which shouts that spring has arrived.

6. Alder Catkins

This is also the time of year that I start to watch catkins for signs of pollen production. Before too long alder catkins will open their purple scales and burst with golden pollen, and the edges of ponds and streams will be draped with their dangling beauty for a short time.

7. Black Birch Male Catkins

Black birch (Betula lenta) catkins will do the same, but they aren’t quite as showy as alder catkins. Black birch twigs taste like wintergreen when they’re chewed so that’s how I make sure I have the correct tree. Black birch was once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen, and so many were taken that they can be very hard to find now. I know where a few grow but they aren’t a common sight. Young trees are easy to confuse with cherry.

8. Black Knot aka Apiosporina morbosa on Cherry-3

Speaking of cherry, one day I saw several young trees with black knot disease. It is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

9. Oak Gall Caused by Callirhytis quercussimilis

A gall wasp called Callirhytis quercussimilis caused this swelling on the trunk of this scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia.) If the trunk had twisted just a bit differently it would have made a great cane.

 10. Cedar Seed Pods

The dried, open cones of northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) look like tiny, carved wooden flowers. Gone are the eight seeds that each one holds, but the flattened, scale-like leaves so common on cedars can be seen in this photo. Native Americans showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with the leaves of this tree and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He also had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

11. Indian Pipe Seed Pod

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) seed pods also look like tiny carved wooden flowers. Most have split open by now to release tens of thousands of seeds to the wind, but not this one. It has cracked open though and since the individual seeds are only ten cells thick, some have probably escaped.

12. Crust Fungus Steccherinum ochraceum

Fallen branches are great places to find lichens and fungi in the winter so I always take a closer look at them. This one had a large area of what I think was white rot fungus (Phanerochaete chrysorhizon) growing on it. This toothed crust fungus is a deep, orangey- brown and has folds that look like teeth.  It is very similar to the milk white, toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) but that fungus has edges that curl.

13. Rimmed Camouflage Lichen aka Melanelia hepatizon Apothecia

I found this leafy (foliose) rimmed camouflage lichen (Melanelia hepatizon) growing on a white pine branch but it can grow on stone and is also called rock leather. Its body (thallus) is very dark olive green with brown and black here and there. Its fruiting bodies (apothecia) are rosy brown disk like structures with white ruffled edges that look as if they’d been dipped in powdered sugar.  These white bits are called Pseudocyphellae, which are pores in the body of the lichen that open to the medulla. The medulla is a layer made up of long, thread like structures called hyphae which in turn make up the fungal part of the lichen. If we revisit lichens 101 we remember that lichens are actually composite organisms that emerge from algae or cyanobacteria (or both) living among filaments of a fungus in a mutually beneficial (symbiotic) relationship. Phew. Some lichens can be almost as difficult to describe as they are to identify.

14. Orange Inner Bark

Though I enjoy finding things in nature that I’ve never seen before and love to learn all about them, sometimes I like to put away the books, forget all the big words and just enjoy the staggering beauty of it all. The unfurled bark of this tree limb showed its striking and unexpected colors that were hidden within, and it reminded me of how lucky I am to be able to see such things, and how very grateful I should be for the opportunity. After a whispered thank you for all of the wonderful things I had seen on this day I headed for home with a glad heart.

What right do I have to be in the woods, if the woods are not in me? ~John Cage

Thanks for coming by.

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